ZT EXCLUSIVE- SAINT VITUS TALKS ALBUM, VIDEO CONCEPTS
Summertime in Texas is excruciatingly hot. But on the upside, the first weekend in June brings about the Chaos in Tejas festival in Austin, which is generally chock full of bands to keep the underground music fans entertained. On this particular night in early June, I was able to catch up with Saint Vitus on a killer bill that included Hail! Hornet, Gates of Slumber, and Church of Misery, among others. In short, it was certainly worth the drive from Houston to Austin to not only see such an amazing bill, but also to have a casual, pleasant conversation with these Elder Statesmen of Doom, known as Saint Vitus.
On the discussion agenda for the day are topics such as the band’s new video and new album, which has only been on the shelves in North America for less than a month. “There aren’t as many reviews [in America] compared to the European reviews,” says founding member Dave Chandler. “One thing I do that drives my wife nuts is I’ll stay up all night on the computer, Googling down from different search engines.” The new Saint Vitus album, “Lillie F:65,” was no doubt a very highly anticipated album for Vitus fans everywhere, seeing as its their first album in 17 years, and their first album with Wino on vocals in 22 years. So what does Chandler see as a prominent negative comment about the new album? “There’s very little negative, as compared to the positive, and the main thing that the negative comments say is that the album is too short,” sums up Chandler. But following that statement, Chandler throws out an observation or two that shows he’s obviously done his homework to silence critics of the album’s length. “I started timing the album, and it’s the same length as all the other Vitus albums, except for COD and Die Healing, not counting the live one [1990’s “Live”] or the greatest hits thing [1991’s “Heavier Than Thou”]. Then I started searching other albums. It’s 33 minutes long, and it’s got two instrumentals and one of them is noise. And that’s interesting because our fathers [Black Sabbath – ed.], God bless them, did “Master of Reality” which is 34 minutes long, it’s got two instrumentals, and one of them noise.” But after these comparisons, Chandler still shrugs his shoulders and comments “If you think it’s too short, then listen to it twice.”
Upon hearing the album’s title months back when it was announced, I couldn’t help but sit and ponder upon the meaning of “Lillie F:65.” Reading further, the band had commented that it was the name of a heavy sedative. Not to sound naïve, but I was curious if the title was an homage to past drug trips, or if there was a deeper meaning. “Well, there are two versions,” ponders Chandler. “If you take it literally, it’s the name of a drug that I used to take, and he used to take [pointing at Mark Adams, Vitus bassist], a lot of us did in the 80s, which is a horse tranquilizer. You take a half of one and you’d be on the floor drooling.” Following that statement, it’s certainly safe to see where the band’s slow, sludgy tempo hails from. But there’s more behind the title than just a simple drug. “Then if you look at it the other way, the girl suffering on the cover, that’s Lillie, a female, and she’s patient number 65,” explains Chandler. “When I tell that to people, they’ll go ‘OH! I get it! That’s the weird shit she sees in her mind.’ And at the end, that’s all that she’s left with, is her dependence and her withdrawal.”
So by now, we can all see that the album is about a female patient, Lillie, struggling with what’s bouncing around in her brain, with noise included. But it doesn’t end there, as we now have a video to go along with the overall Chandler concept he’s concocted. “Let Them Fall,” the first single from the album, was put to a video that certainly confused this writer. I sort of understood what was going on, but I guess I wasn’t thinking deep enough. Thankfully, I had Mr. Chandler to break it down and explain it, straight from the horse’s mouth. “It does take a little bit of understanding, because people are like ‘What the fuck does it mean?’ Well, the song “Let Them Fall” is a narrative, if you will, of the Creator of everything, not necessarily God, but just the entity that created everything. He’s looking down at humans, who have developed to the point where we’re so smart that we can’t even do a fucking simple thing like get out of the car, get out of the door, or figure out why the computer doesn’t work. Duh, it’s not plugged in. ‘I can’t get the plug to go in.’ It’s simple, there’s three holes and three prongs.” So in a way, it’s the Creator of all voicing his displeasure with the state of humanity? “That’s the whole point,” continues Chandler. “He’s so frustrated that we’ve become so intelligent that we can’t use just a pencil or a pen that he’s like ‘Let Them Fall!’ It’s that display of all that intelligent stupidity that’s going on. And that desolation of when they look up for that hope, and He’s like ‘I don’t think so.’ But I will be honest with you; I have no idea what the plastic surgery shit means!”
I’m kind of glad to hear that the intelligence factor of doom is rather alive and well. Despite being a huge Vitus fan, I never really thought that the concept album is something they might partake in, and now I have a newfound respect for this video that confused me at first. As Chandler further discusses the video, he highlights that the artistic vision of it is certainly not lost on other artistic crowds. “The Danish version of the Sundance Film Festival asked the director if he would show it, and take it around to show it. He asked me and I replied, ‘Dude, take that everywhere!’”
Still, any artistic product has naysayers, including the band whose name is stamped on it. “Mark didn’t quite like it at first, but it grew on him,” says Chandler. “Wino [Saint Vitus vocalist] and Henry [Vasquez, Saint Vitus drummer] can’t stand it and they hate every bit of it. I think it’s one of the greatest videos I’ve ever seen. Not to toot my own noodle, but I think it’s hilarious.” Chandler certainly is talkative on this hot, sunny afternoon, and drops a point of discussion that peaked my interest, as well as the interest of my friends standing around us during this conversation. According to Chandler, this video’s concept was intended to be much darker and vivid than the final product we now have. “Me and the dude who made it [Michael Panduro-ed.] went through it and we had this bad ass video [in mind],” Chandler clarifies. “Scion [A/V, who backed the video financially-ed.] said ‘No, you can’t have children killing people, you can’t have a woman sucking on a tailpipe, and you can’t have a guy beating his family with a newspaper like dogs.’ So we dumbed it down as much as we could. I think it’s great. We’ve gotten a shitload of views on youtube, and only one dislike.” Later on in the night, Chandler further revealed to me that in a discussion with his wife, he would like to privately bankroll a remake of the video, using these harsh concepts he’s mentioned, but purely for his enjoyment. I shouldn’t neglect to mention that the possibility of bankrolling this video remake is purely contingent on his winning the lottery.
So in the 17 year absence that Saint Vitus had, the band’s resurgence has no doubt brought about some changes that are strikingly obvious. “People show up now,” laughs Mark Adams, founding bassist. “We would have parents that would bring their kids to our shows back then, and now they bring their kids to the shows” (meaning grandkids). It may, or may not, be too much of a stretch of the imagination to see how a band like Saint Vitus would bridge some generational gaps. In the musical world, it’s plain to see by the newer bands expressing their love of all things Vitus, such as the supergroup Down, who practically wear their devotion to Vitus on their shirtsleeves.
Outside of music, Vitus can now be seen as a parental bonding tool. “My old band Debris Inc. played a show, and this dude walks up to me and says ‘We partied in Berlin in 1985’ and whips out the Polaroid that he took” reminisces Chandler with a smile on his face a mile wide. “Now he’s all bald and old and he says ‘I want you to meet my daughter. She’s heard you since she was in the womb.’ And there’s this little girl, all in pink, sweetest thing in the world. And he says ‘Honey, this is the man who wrote Born Too Late.’ And she’s suddenly like ‘Born Too Late!’ which is so cool! Later on in the show, she’s sitting on her dad’s shoulders with her little pink ear plugs headbanging.”
Still, I’m curious on Adams’ comment about people showing up. Vitus has no doubt left a scar on the face of metal, and an outstanding philosophy of music in the doom metal world. Having only been listening to Saint Vitus in the last ten years, my only insight into the band’s popularity in the beginning was reading about other metal bands praising Vitus for being a huge influence. Then came my first Vitus live experience when the band played a reunion show on Easter weekend in 2009. My friend Ben and I drove to New Orleans from Houston to watch the band play a show with Armando Acosta behind the kit, just prior to his death. This venue was packed with people all there to witness the return of the Mighty Vitus! Present in the crowd were all of the familiar New Orleans metal faces, such as Phil Anselmo, Jimmy Bower, Pepper Keenan and Mike Williams, of Down and Eyehategod respectively. Later in the night, Mastodon could be found socializing in the audience, and drummer Brann Dailor commented to me that Mastodon was playing New Orleans that night, and rushed through their set in order to make it to the Vitus show.
So I’m still left scratching my head wondering what it was like for Vitus back in the day. “We didn’t do shit in the states because mainly they were into different types of metal,” recalls Chandler as he grinds the wheels in his head to bring about those memories. “Once we went to Europe in 1989, for the first time, they were into it! So we just stayed in Europe. We would do really big, packed houses.” Still giving some much needed credit to modern times, Chandler concludes with “I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had in our whole career.”
(All photos courtesy of Ben Yaker, Taken live in Houston, TX 31 May, 2012)
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